Sunday, February 28, 2010

Gotham Central: Half a Life by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark

Renee Montoya is a cop in Gotham City, Just before Gotham became No Man's Land, Renee, then a uniformed cop partnered with Harvey Bullock, went home to see her family, only to walk into an armed confrontation with a man who was demanding more water than rationing would allow him from her parents. She took care of him, and saved her parents, but soon got caught up in helping her brother, who was finding and freeing people from the rubble with the help of none other than Two-Face.

She thought that he was a murderer, but her brother explained how he'd been helping people, and while she helped out, she kept an eye on him- until she was injured helping Two-Face free an old man from the rubble. Then, as her father gave her one last bullet for her empty gun, she continued to keep an eye on him- until Batman showed up. He and Dent got into a fistfight, but she assured Batman that she could reach Dent, and managed to do so long enough for him to keep helping her and the others free trapped people.

Now, Gotham is back in business, and Renee's parents want her to be married, but they argue about her job, which keeps her from meeting anyone suitable- but that's not the real reason that Renee is still single. It's because she's a Lesbian, but her parents severely disapprove of that lifestyle. So she keeps her secret as best she can, and her lover secret as well- because her fellow cops have enough reason to disapprove of a Latina cop.

But on her 29th birthday, she gets sent flowers, and she gets ragged on a bit by the other cops wanting to know who sent them. Does she have a "Boyfriend"? When she finds out that Bruce Wayne sent them for Harvey Dent, she's nice enough to celebrate her birthday with him in Gotham Asylum.

It seems the cops could care less about her flowers, but when someone outs her secret life, not only to the cops she works with, but to her parents as well, Renee must go into full damage control mode, while trying to keep the two parts of her life separate. And when the "investigative reporter" who took the pictures is murdered with Renee's gun, she's arrested for his murder.

Of course, she didn't do it, but who did? And how will her parents react to the truth of her orientation? Can Renee ever forget, or forgive the man who outed her and destroyed her life? And how will she prove that she didn't kill the man and get herself freed from incarceration?

This was one of the first Gotham Central graphic novels I've read. The spine is marked #2, but it occurs before the events of the two other Gotham Central novels, both the first part, and the rest, since in the other Gotham Central Novels, Renee Montoya is taking time off, presumably to recover from the events of this story. And who can blame her? What she undergoes is pretty horrific, with Two-Face deciding to take everything away from her so that she'll be forced to love him.

And the fallout is ongoing- because of it, she's forced into prison with men she's personally put away, and criminals who hate cops generally. But the bus she's on that transfers criminals to the main prison is attacked, and she's kidnapped from it, making it look like she's escaped. But, of course, being a lesbian, she can never love Harvey Dent the way he wants her to love him- and the way he loves her.

You have to wonder why, knowing of Renee's lesbianism, Harvey Dent thought it was still possible to win her love. Well, I suppose that's part of why he's insane- refusing to accept outcomes he doesn't like. Reading this graphic novel was rather harrowing, but that's what made it a good story. I would definitely recommend this book to other people who enjoy graphic novels. It's one of the better examples in recent history.

The art is very good, although two stories are included that are drawn by two quite different artists than Michael Lark. The first is from Gotham Chronicles #16, and resembles the art in the early Batman Animated series (and since Renee Montoya got her start in that series, it fits quite well), and a second tale far closer to the gritty art in the last story- almost making all three mesh. This graphic novel doesn't evoke the kind of four color superhero tales as much as it does Crime Dramas or Police Procedurals like Law and Order or CSI- if those characters had to take a backseat to a vigilante who did everything better and took down criminals they couldn't even touch. I like this series, and I want to read more, but confess I am confused by the numbering here. Highly recommended.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Invincible, Ultimate Collection Volume 1 by Kirkman, Walker, Ottley andn Crabtree

Mark looks like a normal teenager, but he isn't. His father is Omni-man, member of the Guardians of the Globe. Though he looks like a normal human, he's actually an alien from another world, but Mark's mom is human, and his father attempts to live a normal life, pretending to be a writer who is often gone on reasearch trips.

Meanwhile, Mark lives a normal life; Attends high school, has a job at a burger place, and hangs out with his friends. But when he finally comes into his powers, the world becomes a much larger place for him- not only is he helping clean up his town, taking on a Superhero name "Invincible" and getting a costume from the same place his Dad got his, he starts hanging out with The Teen Team: Robot, Atom Eve, Rex Splode and Dupli-Kate.

Then Mark's Dad gets pulled into an alternate dimension for a few days Mark's time, eight months subjective time, and Mark discovers that one of his teachers is turning kids into human bombs in retaliation for the death of his son. Soon after, the Guardians of the Globe are killed, and Mark's friend AtomEve discovers that her boyfriend, RexSplode, is cheating on her with DupliKate- and his friend William finds out his secret.

With the death of the Guardians, Mark's Dad seems more distant- even his wife notices. But as Robot it tapped to head a new Guardians of the Globe, and Mark and Robot's former Teen Team members try out for spots on the new team, Mark finds his life suddenly going to shit- and his love life (or lack thereof) are only part of the reason. First one of the members of the Guardians of the Globe, Immortal, comes back from the grave, and he knows who killed the other Guardians- Omni-Man, Mark's Dad.

Their subsequent fight lets the world know who killed the Guardians, and when Mark hears about it, he goes ballistic and goes off to fight his Dad- where he learns that the story his Dad told him, and his mother, isn't true. Mark's Dad didn't come from a Utopian world, but one where the genetically perfect and superior conquered and overthrew the rest. Mark's Dad was sent to conquer Earth, and he pretended to be a hero for so long because he wanted to ensure that he knew all the would-be heroes he'd have to fight when the time came to conquer Earth.

He views Mark's mother as nothing more than a pet- and Mark himself as a threat if he won't join his father in conquering Earth. But Mark refuses, even though his father is really giving him a beating. He'd rather die than betray the people of Earth of whom he is one, no matter his origin. But when his father flies off, leaving Mark alive, can his alter-Ego, invincible, become the nucleus of Earth's defense against his father's people when they inevitably return to invade? How will Mark, who couldn't even stand toe to toe with his father, be able to deal with that?

Storywise, I really enjoyed this comic compilation. It's an interesting, well-told story that takes a rather obvious cliche and turns it on its head. "Son of a well-known Superhero" whose father turns out to really be a villain, not a hero. Yet signs point to Mark being able to think up some way around the invasion. If his father is indicative of the people on his planet, Mark might very well be able to out-think them, and get people to join him based on his charisma.

On the other hand, I found the art more problematic. While it was nice to see tributes to and pastiches of various comic book and science fiction heroes (The Guardians of the Globe are rip-offs of the Justice League, complete with analogues to Batman, Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Flash and Aquaman, but members of the WildC.A.T.S. and the Savage Dragon show up at the Funeral, along with a character who, from behind, looks just like Rorshach from Watchmen. There's even a place where the alienized cast of Star Trek:TNG makes an appearance. On the other hand... I didn't really like the art style. It felt too cartoony, and a bit too stylized. YMMV, of course, but I just never really got used to it, even later in the book.

In large part, I was reading the book less for the art than the story, which I found compelling. The art was barely on the level of "Nice" for me, but I'd rather have a well-written book that looks like crap than have a gorgeous artwork that tells a story that's crap. I know which one I'd find more interesting to read, anyhow.

Nevertheless, this book is worth it just for reading the story, and the story here is excellent. The artwork is merely pedestrian and does the job of carrying the tale around, but it isn't anything to write home about for me. I'd recommend it, again, based almost completely on the story and not much else.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Dragonswan by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Channon MacRae is a scholar who is studying the famous Dragon Tapestry, trying to figure out who made it and what the images on it mean. She's interrupted by a comment in a male voice, saying, "Be kind to Dragons, for thou are crunchy when roasted and taste good with ketchup."

Turning to see who interrupted her, she is surprised to find a very tall, very built and handsome man watching her, Sebastian Kattalakis. She's convinced that no one who looks like that could ever possibly be interested in someone like her, but by the way he's looking her over, he is definitely interested. And she returns that interest in spades.

He convinces her to let him take her out to dinner, and they have a great time. He tells her the truth- that he's a dragon slayer who is there to steal the tapestry, but in such a way that she thinks it's a joke and doesn't believe him. Afterwards, he takes her back to the hotel, where, fueled by the passion and attraction they feel for each other, they become lovers. And after a whole lot of hot, hot sex, he leaves her to sleep it off and returns to the museum to steal the tapestry.

Being able to essentially teleport it into his hand makes that a snap, but when his hand starts to tingle and burn, he looks down to see a pattern forming on his hand and is shocked, because this means that Channon is his mate, and he can't just leave her behind unless he wants to remain celibate for the rest of his long, long life.- something he really doesn't want to do.

But bringing her into his own world in the past among the Saxons is fraught with dangers as well, because he needs to steal the tapestry in order for the Katagaria Drakos to release his imprisoned brother, and they are going to view the purely human Channon as meat- or a tool to force him to comply. But can he keep her safe in a world full of danger while also rescuing his brother? And can he ask her to stay in his world of the past, away from all the modern amenities she enjoys, just to live with him as his mate?

I liked this book, and even though it was short, the story flowed well and you never felt it was a cut-off part of a larger, more complete tale, or in any way lacking. Events move quickly- perhaps more quickly than in a longer-length story, but this doesn't detract in any way.

I found Sebastian very hot, but saw another Sherrilyn Kenyon trademark. "He wasn't usually attracted to her type, but..." apparently is the signal in her universe that someone has met their lifemate. Not really annoying, but approaching the point of being overused to me.

Still, this was a short, sweet shot of her universe- giving us a kind of Shifter we haven't met before, a dragon- shifter. Or Drakos, as this universe terms them. And a -swan is the mate of a shifter, so a Dragonswan would be the mate of a Dragon-shifter, which kind of gives away how the story ends, but then, this is a urban fantasy romance. If you couldn't guess there would be a happily ever after, why did you even pick it up? Recommended.

Female Force by Neil Bailey, Ryan Howe, Mike Adams and others

"Female Force" is a series published by Bluewater comics, containing biographies of famous women. This graphic novel reprints the first four issues in the series, focussed on women in Politics: Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and Caroline Kennedy.

Michelle Obama is first up. Author Bailey starts out by telling readers that when Barack Obama was elected, he was truly electrified, knowing he was seeing history happen- and Michelle was equally an architect of making her husband's Presidency happen, But during his campaign, lies were circulated about her, lies the author puts right. First is that she was a child of privilege, something that just isn't the case. Her father was a janitor and did his best for the party he worked for. Many claimed he got his job through cronyism, but if he did, why a janitor? Why not some other political job that would have paid more?

Other topics tackled are her thesis, which most of the people who speak out against it have only mined for quotes that can make her seem anti-American. Not only did she collect the statistics personally, but she spent much time working pro bono for not only poor blacks but poor whites, and encouraged both to live in harmony. One should actually read her words before attacking her- don't listen to what someone else says about them. Read them first, with an open mind, and then judge.

Next is Hillary Clinton, who got an incredible amount of flack for trying to be more than just a first lady who smiled and stood by her man, serving tea and entertaining the wives of visiting dignitaries while her husband did all the work. While many people are convinced that they know everything about Hillary Clinton, I was surprised to learn that she started out a Republican, and worked the campaign for Barry Goldwater when she was just a teenager, However, after the turbulent 60's, she ended up a Democrat after she re-examined what each political party then stood for.

When she was first lady, she was constantly attacked by those who opposed her husband, Bill. Most of them thought she should shut up and go back to raising her daughter and leave the job of running the country to the real men. She's not without fault and made some definite missteps in her political career, both when her husband was in the White House and when she was campaigning for the Presidency, but she was able to put aside her defeat and wholeheartedly support Barack Obama after losing the Democratic nomination to him- not something that many members of any political party could say.

Sarah Palin has become a notorious figure in American Politics, a lightning rod for both political parties. And even though Neal Bailey is unabashedly liberal, he tries his best to show Sarah Palin as she really is- Folksy, yes, a straight speaker, yes, but also vindictive, and at the time of her nomination for the Office of Vice President, completely unsuited for the post- she didn't know what the duties of the Vice President were, and her interviews with the press brought her almost nothing but censure, because it was obvious she was lying. Saying she read magazines and when asked which ones, she replied, "All of them," made her look disingenuous and she seemed to believe that America was gullible enough to believe her.

And even when McCain lost, she was rocked by scandals that even those of her own party agreed she was in the wrong on, such as Troopergate and the report from the Republican Alaskan Legislative Council in which they said she had abused the power of her office. Later, she quit her job and left office- why is not immediately clear, and the reader is left to make up their own mind on Sarah Palin.

Last in the book is something of a non-starter, politically, although she has links to politicians past. She's Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy and Jackie Bouvier, who later married Aristotle Onassis. Her brother was Jon, Jr. (who died in a plane crash with his young wife), so she is the last remaining member of the dynasty of Camelot. But unlike her father and brother, she's cared less about Politics than doing good works and making sure that underpriviledged kids have the materials to read.

Her closest brush with Politics came after her endorsement of Barack Obama for President. It was claimed that she would be offered the position of Secretary of State in his new cabinet. But before she could even be considered, she withdrew herself from consideration. Like her or not, she's spent her life in supporting kids learning to read, and reading. What could be less controversial than that?

When I first saw the cover of this book, it made me sick to my stomach. I thought it was going to be a superhero group composed of the Presidential First Ladies as some kind of hero or superhero group. I tried to imagine Sarah Palin working with Michelle Obama or Hillary Clinton, and I just couldn't. I think other readers will admit, though, that "Female Force" does sound like some kind of Superhero group. I thought it might be a parody like the "Ex-Presidents".

The fact that it's a bunch of comics biographies of women in politics didn't even cross my mind, but I did want to check it out. I admit it, I was quite surprised. But pleasantly so. Each issue is rather short- 22 pages, more or less, and covers each woman's life from childhood to the present of whenever the comic was published. The research done on each woman is astounding, and managed to tell me things I didn't know about each woman covered- like Hillary Clinton originally being a Republican. Even when the author disagrees with the politics and views of the women he is writing about, he does try to bend over backwards to be scrupulously fair to each.

While Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton are very well known to most people who follow politics, I wasn't all that aware of Caroline Kennedy (yes, she married Edward Schlossberg, but she kept her own name- something that dismayed both her mother and the mother of the groom). It was interesting to read each issue.

The artwork is mostly well-doe but occasionally faces look grotesque. The cover is well done, the interior art, not as well. Michelle Obama's art is the best drawn, but all the subjects don't look like themselves more than occasionally, lapsing into carticature in picture form. But overall, this isn't a bad graphic novel, and one I would certainly recommend for those wishing to know more about the person depicted.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dragon Moon by Rebecca York

Kenna is a psychic from another world, one in which many, many more people have psychic powers than in our own world. Her power involves telekinesis, but she isn't a free woman. Two years ago, she was stolen from her home by the forces of the Dragon, Vandar, and now she serves him as his slave, along with a host of other humans. Kenna hates being a slave, but she would hate being killed by Vandar much more, which would certainly happen if she tried to run. She already tried to run once, but she was caught and returned to her servitude. She no longer believes she can escape. The only reason Vandar didn't kill her the first time that she ran was because she has skills that he needs.

She works in the library, keeping Vandar's books from disintegrating by spreading preservative liquid on the pages. But Vandar needs her for something different now- there is another world, much like their own, but the people there have almost no psychic powers and instead have developed technology. Vandar wants to conquer this world, which is, of course, our own. He's sent some spies to our world, but because they were men, they were regarded with suspicion. Vandar hopes that a meek and rather inoffensive young woman will be able to find out what his male agents could not.

He has Kenna prepared by the mages who have opened a portal to our world, teaching her our slang and some of our customs, then sends her through the portal. Once on the other side, Kenna finds herself on a cold mountainside, and it quickly begins to rain. While she looks for shelter, she is caught in the downpour and under a falling tree. Using her powers, she tries to push the tree away from her, but only ends up not being killed- she is trapped by the fallen tree. And when lightning strikes the tree and sets it on fire, she's terrified.

The mountain she appeared on is home to a werewolf named Talon Marshall. He's a wilderness guide who leads parties of humans into the woods for a camping trip and shows them the wonder and glories of nature. When he returns home from a run. he hears the tree fall and hears Kenna's scream- so he immediately goes to her aid in wolf form. Kenna isn't afraid of the wolf, but when he's unable to shift the tree, he leaves to change back to human form and dress, then saves her from the fire, which the rain soon puts out. He brings her to his home to recover from her ordeal, but he realizes quite quickly that something isn't normal about her.

She has no idea what technological things are, like telephones, televisions, washing machines and dishwashers, and she even appears somewhat afraid of them. But he doesn't think that she's from a different world- he thinks she's from some kind of fundamentalist compound out in the forest, where she was raised to do hard work without the help of modern technology. and so he asks his brother, who happens to be a private eye, for help in finding out where Kenna came from.

His brother asks him to send him a sample of Kenna's DNA, which he does.- but Talon has some problems of his own. First of all is that he's very much attracted to Kenna and can barely keep his hands off of her. Second, before Kenna arrived, he was running in the woods in his wofl form and discovered a case buried in the woods with a million dollars in it. Now, the man who buried the case found out that it was gone, and that Talon had found it and turned it over to the cops. He's rather angry at Talon for that and wants his revenge. But he has no idea that Talon is a werewolf, or that werewolves even exist.

And Vandar has ensured that Kenna will feel nothing but pain if she tries to tell anyone the truth about herself or about the alternate universe or about him. After She has a fight with Talon, he goes off to lead a group into the wilderness, leaving her in his home. But she's called home by Vandar to show him what she's learned. He pulls everything from her mind to make a copy of Talon's home- but it's only a copy- the faucets don't work, and neither do any of the other appliances.

Now, however, he has a further demand. He knows that Kenna and Talon have become lovers, and he doesn't mind. He wants Kenna to seduce Talon into buying her fifty guns, and the ammunition to use them. Kenna is afraid of what this means, and doesn't know if she can do it. But Vandar insists that she try. He wants the guns for his invasion of Earth, and he soon sends Kenna back- only for her to be captured by the man gunning for Talon, who knocks her out and puts her in Talon's house to try and burn it down for his revenge on Talon.

Luckily, Talon returns before he can carry through with his plan, and Talon chooses to save Kenna instead of going after the fleeing man. He puts out the fire and makes love to her, and afterwards, he gets a phone call from his brother- and his brother's wife, who just so happens to be from the same world as Kenna. They ask to meet with Talon, and Kenna, alone by herself, tries to write out the information she needs Talon to know- that she's a slave and that her master is planning an invasion of this world. But even though she only writes one word per page, the pain strikes her down, and she has a vision of Vandar taking her back to her world and tormenting her on the way to slowly killing her for her treachery.

Can she and Talon win free of this nightmare world and break her ties to Vandar? And who is the man who keeps having visions of her- does he somehow have ties to Vandar or to Kenna's world? And can Talon, his family and their new wives return to Kenna's world to free her and kill Vandar to set Kenna free and the other slaves the Dragon has as well? Or will the immensely smart, long-lived Dragon be able to outwit and kill them?

I had never read a book from this series by Rebecca York (the pen name of Ruth Glick, according to the cover), but apparently. this is just one, the latest in a line of four or five books set in this world and dealing with Talon's family. The worlds are set up as virtual mirror images of each other, up until the World's Fair of 1893, when one man came up with a machine that could give others very strong psychic abilities. In our world, he was laughed off the stage, in Kenna's world, not only did his machine work, but many people decided to use it.

Because of that, the worlds diverged wildly, and the psychic world never developed many technological machines. Instead, they relied on their psychic powers to do things. They never developed the combustion engine- or abandoned it soon after it was developed, so their world has no industrial pollution like ours (something Kenna notices when she comes to Earth is the different smell in the air from her world. We don't really see much of Kenna's world- only Vlandar's stronghold and some flashbacks into her life before, and it's something I would like to see more of.

I liked the suspense of learning who Randall was and why he was having visions of Kenna and the feeling that she was somehow important to him. The resolution of that was a big surprise to me, but it underscored how much each world had developed, and developed differently, from the point of separation, but it also raised some interesting questions which I can't state without giving away that point in the plot- something I'm not willing to do.

So I'd recommend this book, both as a romance and as a fantasy. The heroine might seem weak, but she's actually strong to hold out against Vandar- who outclasses her in both psychic abilities and strength many times over- yet once she's away from him, she tries hard to resist him anyway, which is admirable. Talon is a bit more of a cipher. He emerges as far less of his own character and towards the end, drifts into standard "overprotective Alpha" behavior- but I didn't begrudge him that too much. Recommended.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Vampire Kisses 2: Blood Relatives by Ellen Schreiber and Rem

Raven is a goth girl who has always wanted to be a vampire. When Alexander Sterling moved to town, she grew attached to him and fell in love, which was when he revealed he was actually a vampire. Raven and Alexander have had some problems from the family of his old fianceé, who he never loved and threw over in favor of Raven, but now trouble is brewing from Alexander's side of the family, which means his wild-child cousin, Claude. Claude has a hot head and since he is only a half-vampire, he's obsessed with becoming a full vampire, for which he needs three vials of blood belonging to their grandmother. The vials can turn him, and his gang of half-vampires, into full vampires.

Raven tries to protect the house by putting garlic at all the entrances, but her family quickly finds them and won't let them stay. Raven has to find another way to protect her family, since she can't divulge Alex's secret. That night, she goes to see him, and asks if he knows of any place the vials might have been hidden. He recalls Claude finding a "treasure map" once in his grandmother's jewelry drawer. But she took it away and when they went back later to look, it was gone.

Claude isn't the only one who wanted those vials, his father pleaded with his grandmother on Claude's behalf to give him the vials. But she didn't want to because she feared that Claude would become power hungry and turn into a relative monster if he became a full vampire. Neither Raven nor Alexander know where the map is now, but Raven gets an idea- why not trick Claude by giving him a fake map, one that leads to a place where his grandmother spent a lot of time. If they trick him well enough, they will go away, leaving them alone.

Alexander thinks that is a great idea, and draws a map to the carriage house on the grounds, which Raven adds some versimilitude to by burning the edges of the map so that it looks really old. Claude is leaning on her at school to find the map and give it to him, and he's being really obnoxious about it, too. But Raven continues playing him along, knowing the longer she waits, the more eager and desperate Claude will become. allowing them to fool him more easily.

But when push comes to shove and she finally has to get the map to Claude, can she and Alexander convince Claude that the map and "package" containing the vials are real? Or will Claude discover the truth, putting Raven at even more risk than before?

I enjoyed this Vampire Kisses books, and we have sort of seen this situation before, with Alexander's ex-fianceé, who was herself a half-vampire. According to the book, though, half-vampires can be turned by their partners, but they are apparently then expected to marry them. I would have liked to have seen the reason why Claude needs these special vials to turn, If he needs vampire blood to turn into a true Vampire, why couldn't his father or mother, or some other relative, turn him? Is it considered incest if it's done that way? It's never said, and we don't know- and we don't know what's so special about the blood in the vials. except that it's vampire blood.

On he whole, this story doesn't seem to make very much sense to me. and it isn't very well explained, but the art and character designs are more than cute, and it has the same sort of snarky humor as the books. Some of my favorite moments are when Raven is fantasizing about being a vampire, with no reflection to put on her makeup, and a later scene when we see one of Claude's groupies trying to comb her hair, also without a reflection, and how she has to get out of it by dropping to the floor and pretending to look for a contact lens to get away.

This is an amusing book with lighthearted art and cute character designs. It's very manga-y, even though it's Amerimanga, with weird expression on the character's faces when startled or angry, and its pretty amusing, too. If you enjoyed the books, you'll find more to love here. Recommended.

Prince of Persia: The Graphic Novel by Jordan Mechner, A. B. Sina, LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland

When Princess Shirin is denied the presence of her dancing tutor by her own father, she runs away from the city disguised as a common street Urchin, calling herself Shapur. At a caravan stop in the desert, she is commanded to draw water from the well there, but the bucket gets trapped against a tree root and sticks. She is sent down into the well to free it, but sees something in the water below... a man's reflection in the water.

The well is reputed to be haunted, so her cried convince the others to abandon the well at once. But she has lost a necklace given to her by her tutor in the well and goes back to retrieve it. She slips and falls into the water, and is rescued by a man named Layth, who is the son of the former ruler of Persia. When his father was killed, the man's killer, the new King, raised Layth as his son, along with his own children, Guiv and Guilan. Raised together, they were inseparable.

Shirin is entranced by the story, but then "Layth" begins freaking her out, and he reveals his real name, Ferdos, Guardian of the Waters. He shows her the room where he writes, filled with containers of Kohl, which he uses as ink.

A century earlier, Guilan, married to Layth, saves the life of her brother when Layth tries to drown him. She is pregnant with Layth's child, and loves him, but Layth is nervous and jumpy, despite the fact that Guilan loves him. Layth, who is now King, wishes that he and Guilan were free and Guiv were King. Guiv, meanwhile, has left the city, and followed only by a Peacock from the Garden, taken shelter in a castle atop a crag, supposedly the home of a famous sage, but actually empty of people. Injured by a lion, and then a boar. he recuperates in the castle, and discovers a pit filled with skeletons and other bones. The Peacock, which has become some kind of otherworldly bird-creature that claims to be a thousand years old, keeps him company as he recuperates.

But when Layth is killed by his own general, can Guiv lead the people to prosperity in his own name? And when Shirin discovers that Ferdos is the Prince prophesied about 100 years ago to become the new ruler of Persia, and that her father and mother are corrupt and vicious, will she side with him to save her people from the Mongols and away from the corruption. and violence of her father's reign?

Now, supposedly this graphic novel ties together the stories of all the video games, but I honestly don't think it does. I remember a lot of running, jumping and leaping ledges and trying to avoid guards in the first few games, and none of the stories in those games really seems to be represented here, even if Jordan Mechner was responsible for all the games. I haven't played any of the videogames past number 3, so I don't know if they are all supposed to be about the same character or not (the early ones versus the later ones, that is), but it seemed to me as if this plot was just another game variation of some kind.

It's not a bad story, and the two are interleaved very well, with each artist taking a different story and a different time in history allowing them to be parallel and for the art to differentiate changes in time and place. Both stories also draw on different Persian myths, without any sort of magic save for visions and perhaps spells. No genies or palaces built out of sand or clouds, or creatures like Rocs, either.

It's an interesting story, but I wouldn't go so far as to tie it to the games except thematically, in that all the stories are about Persian Princes. None of the names are the same, nor are the characters, but both stories are about the nature of responsibility, freedom and time. In some places the story gets rather confusing, but otherwise this is a solid title. Just don't expect it to have much, if any, connection to the actual computer and videogames and you'll enjoy it a lot more. Recommended, but not highly.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ace of Cakes: Inside the World of Charm City Cakes by Duff Goldman and Willie Goldman

If you don't know Duff Goldman, star of Food Network Reality Series "Ace of Cakes", you must be living under a rock somewhere. A rocker who loved food, he spent much of his life learning about food. He went to the CIA and bummed around working in different restaurants, criss-crossing the country.

When he came back to Baltimore, he was asked by a friend to make her a wedding cake. The Wedding coordinator was so blown away by the cake he made, that she asked him for his business card. Unfortunately, he didn't have one, but he did get a lot of requests for cakes. And when he found out how much he could charge for a cake, he went into the cake-making business, first out of his home, and then moving into a professional kitchen.

The fact that Duff didn't look like a baker saved him at least once. When a man came to see if he was breaking the law by using his home kitchen as a professional kitchen to bake cakes, Duff said, "Do I look like a baker?" and the man said, no, he didn't, and went away. But Duff quickly moved to a "real" professional kitchen.

As Duff's business grew, he hired friends of his: Geof Manthorne, Mary-Alice Yeskey... Every decorator, cake baker, and even the guys who generally drive the delivery truck are covered by this book- because some of them do a little cake decorating, too. But even if they don't, their lives and their work at Charm City Cakes are covered in pretty amazing detail. The upshot of most of this is that Duff and his crew are rarely just cake bakers- they are artists (or, in Geof Manthorne's case, an architect) rather than people raised on just how to decorate cakes. And it's this that allows their cakes to be, quite frankly, amazing.

This book, it tells you right at the outset, isn't a "how-to" guide to baking cakes or cake decoration- it's more of a celebration of what Duff and his team of decorators at the bakery do. There are plenty of pictures of the cakes that have been featured on the show- tiny pictures crowded onto 3 or 4 fold-out pages, but most of the book focusses on the people who work there, from the Vegan cake baker to Mary-Alice's assistant. And if you've already seen the episode where they showed the decorators making styrofoam cakes for display, just for the book, you will already have seen many of the cakes that this book profiles, from the "Teeth Grill" cake to the "Bust of Marie Antoinette" cake to the Matryoshka cake(s).

Also included are a list of Frequently asked questions, like "Do you ever wash your hands, you filthy people?" (Yes, but that part always ends up on the cutting room floor)- every time they switch fondant colors, they have to wash their hands, so assume it's going on even if it isn't shown! And "How much do your cakes cost?"- Answer, if you have to ask, you can't afford it! The truth is, if you go to their website, an "average" cake is about $1000, but most range from $500 to $2000. When you order a cake, you get 5 samples of the 47 falvors they flavor to try- this costs $100, but is deducted from the cost of your finished cake. And the flavors are listed in the book, and they sound delicious- everything from "Peanut Butter and Jelly" (yes, cake!) to "Brownie", "Ginger and Green Tea", "Caradmom and Pistachio", "Blackberry Sourcream" and "Red Velvet" is covered, along with a host of others- "Bananas Foster", "Tiramisu", "Strawberry Shortcake"- the list seems endless!

And yes, the cakes do taste good. If they didn't, no one would order them, no matter how good they looked. When a cake is covered in fondant, it acts as a moisture seal, ensuring the cake will be fresh for at least 3 or 4 days. This is the charge leveled most often at the bakery- but as people who have ordered a cake can attest, it's without merit.

I was enthralled by this book when it came into the library as a return. I delayed checking it in and read it over my lunch- completely forgetting about the book I had actually brought in to read. I watch Ace of Cakes all the time after I come home from work, so this was one I really looked forward to.

In a way, having seen the episode where they prepare the cakes that are featured in the making of the book made the whole cake-making part a little less interesting, but where it shone was in showing us the people who work at Charm City Cakes- who they are, where they come from, and their own personal stories. Duff got his nickname because when he was born, his older brother couldn't say "Jeffrey", it came out "Duffy" and soon, the name stuck. Duff and Mary Alice met when she lost her grandmother's pearls down the sink at her dorm. Duff was the RA acting as the dorm handyman, and he pulled the U-shaped pipe beneath the sink and got them back for her. It's these stories that make the book so unusually fascinating to read.

This is a coffee-table book, and while the pictures of the cakes are interesting (and will take a magnifying glass to be able to enjoy), it's the history of the business and the people who work there and run it that will keep you coming back for more. Highly recommended.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bound to Shadows by Keri Arthur

Riley Johnson is half vampire, half-werewolf, She lives with her brother, Rhoan, his wolf-mate Liander, and her lover, the Vampire Old One named Quinn. She and Quinn are lovers, and she prefers him, but she also has a wolf soul mate named Kye- both are perfect for each other, but while Kye wants Riley, she is less than enthralled with the man- he's an assassin who doesn't seem to care that his job is killing people, and Riley doesn't approve one bit. She may want him and need him, but she doesn't love him or want to be with him- and the bad part of it all is that she can't even kill him, because the death of one's mate invariably means the death of the wolf.

Her current job with the directorate is catching the perpetrator of a series of vampire homicides. The vamps in question have been surprised and had their heads sawed or chopped off, something that argues that the killer is a supernatural with some kind of enhanced speed, since they would need to have that to do such a crime to a vampire, who has enhanced speed itself. The latest crime has taken place outside a blood club, where vampires go to feed and their blood donors go to be fed from. It's a win-win situation for both, because the vampires don't need to attack humans to feed, and their donors get off on the sensation from the feeding.

But Riley gets a bad feeling from this particular club, and more specifically, its owner, Dante Stark, who spends far too much of his time trying to seduce her. She also gets a bad feeling from the crime, and from her boss, Cole, who she feels is keeping something from he. But when the finds her mate Kye Murphy involved in the murder up to his eyebrows, he begins blackmailing her into meeting him for lunch to share the information she needs to solve the case- and coincidentally, making the sort of intimate connections between them that feed the mating bond, tying them and their souls together.

At the same time, she is helping her friend and fellow directorate agent, the Horse-Shifter Kade, with his own case, which involves the kidnapping and near-murder of young children at carnivals. But as both cases heat up, she's called in on a number of cases where women, apparently young and healthy young women, are suddenly turning up dead in their beds at home. Can it have something to do with the Emo Vampires who feed on human emotion? Or is Dante Stark, who radiates sexiness like nothing else in this world on a daily basis somehow to blame?

But Riley has a lot to deal with- as her relationship (such as it is) with Kye heats up, she's worried that it might end her relationship with Quinn, Yet every time they meet, she keeps getting deeper and deeper into her sexual relationship with him, and less able to pull away. And the if the information he's giving her is true, the mystery surrounding the beheading deaths involves the Vampire Council- of which both Quinn and her boss Cole are members, and who are above even the head of the Directorate's chain of command.

She knows Kye is there to kill someone and make it look like an accident, but when his job conflicts with hers, can she save his target without killing him- and dooming herself to death thereby? Or will she be able to dodge the bullet and find another way out of her dilemma? And if she can, will relationship with Quinn survive?

Wow, this was an amazing book. Riley is a hot, kick-ass heroine, but sometimes her life sucks hard. She wanted to find her mate for so long, but in the meantime, she fell in love with Quinn. And then she did find her mate- and her mate turned out to be very hot, but a total bastard that she didn't feel comfortable with morally, no matter that he's perfect for her wolf and she can't deny her attraction to his hot, handsome bod.

And having found him, she can't just cut him out of her life, because he's determined to fight for what she wants to deny him- herself. And Quinn, who knows the rather strange heritage that Riley has, knows that Kye could steal her away from him- a werewolf has no choice over who his or her mate is- and once they have met, if one dies, the other does, too- and the more they have sex, the closer their lives and souls become entwined. So every time Riley slips from her intention to have nothing to do with Kye- or not to have sex with him, she may be ending her relationship with Quinn. And I'll have to say here that I never found Kye all that. I never felt she should end up with him. Yes, he has an unfair advantage- he is her mate- but I hoped they wouldn't end up together. He may be a sexy bad boy, but there is more to life than that, and should be, too.

In addition, the rest of the story was great- the mystery was intense and interesting, and the fact that guys are just aching to leap into her pants... and her life, made you truly believe in her total awesomeness- although the motives of some of the men were very suspect- Stark in particular. The answers for Riley were never easy, but she rolled with the punches and came out on top. It's her willingness to take risks and not stop at the simple answers that makes her rock, and you definitely cheer for her to win over her adversaries and enemies.

This book is the penultimate volume of the series, but I can't wait to read the final book. Her life is finally coming together to be stable and full of happiness and children, even if they are her twin, Rhoan's children rather than her own. I've enjoyed this series tremendously, and while I am sad that it will soon be gone, some of the characters will appear in the new Dark Angel series Keri Arthur is writing, and that promises to be just as good. Highly recommended.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Zombie Survival Guide- Recorded Attacks by Max Brooks

Author of the "World War Z" books Max Brooks brings fans of his novels what they wanted- graphic retellings of all known Zombie attacks in recorded history (and some even before history was recorded, considering that the first attack in the book occurs in 60,000 BC).

Several attacks are only known because of a cave painting, archaeological find, or records of the Roman Empire, while others happen close to the modern day.

The Book Begins with an attack in 60,000 BC, and immortalized in a cave painting. Primitive Humans face off the Zombie armed only with rocks, fire-hardened spears, and rock axes. Then, in 3000 BC, we find a single zombie interred in a grave and scratched at the walls for years trying to escape before truly dying.

The Next is in Scotland in 121 AD. When the undead attack and infect a group of Caledonians, the only surviving witness to the attack is a Roman Merchant, who manages to warn the local Legion. The commander there comes up with a strategy to kill the zombies with the least loss of troops, beheading them near two great pits filled with pitch, dumping the heads in them and burning the remains. He also beheads his own bitten troops for good measure, but warns the rest of the Roman Empire of the way to defeat the Zombies, and it becomes part of the Law of the Legions.

Next, Francis Drake discovered an Island full of Zombies that were used by the local islanders to get rid of their dead, dying and infirm. However, he was so shocked by what he saw there, he only recorded it in a secret journal that remained hidden until after his death.

The, a group of Cossacks who became separated from the rest of their army, turned to Cannibalism in a small Siberian village when they had eaten through the village's food stores. When the people ran out, they went to the burial ground, looking for recent corpses to exhume and eat. They only found 1 fresh corpse, and the woman came "alive" when she was thawed and attacked the Cossacks. One was bitten, and the rest save for one chopped her up and ate her. The zombie flesh killed the humans, and the bitten man turned into a Zombie. The lone survivor fled, and the zombie chased him until it froze solid.

A letter from a Portuguese trader in Japan reveals the existence of a group of ninja-like Zombie slayers whose final test before joining the order was to spend the night in a chamber filled with the severed Zombie heads, still "alive". Then we have an outbreak on a slave ship that was sunk by another ship who discovered the vessel. And an outbreak in St. Lucia that was fled by the white slavemasters and defeated by the black slaves and freedmen- who were put down for a supposed "slave rebellion" and killed when the regular army came to the island.

In more modern times, Brooks tells the story of a zombie siege of an outpost of French Legionnaires, for which they lasted three years before finding a way to imprison the zombies and rejoin their comrades- only to be branded as deserters and sent to French Guiana. Then, during the second World War, the Japanese tried to raise an amy of Zombies to use... with disastrous results. The Russians found notes of their research, and tried for the same, with similar disastrous results. And finally, the source of the modern outbreak in Joshua Tree state park, where two men were turned, and a woman turned and killed.

This is an interesting look at the supposed Zombie History of World War Z, when Zombies devastated life on earth. But in the end, it's a bit unsatisfying. Yes, the zombie attacks are shown in tremendous detail and with considerable brutality and gore. But Brooks has to come up with increasingly credible reasons as to why nobody in the world seems to know about zombies before the first attack- or how zombies, who in the past couldn't even figure out how to open closed doors, can suddenly be driving a car in the modern day without a strong sense of disconnect.

Zombies are fairly mindless, as this book shows, creatures of hunger. So how can they suddenly remember to drive a car? Is it because the story needs them to? The other thing that bothered me about this book is that we never learn where the zombie virus came from. How did it evolve? Did it just suddenly appear? Why does it hopscotch from place to place around the globe, appearing here and there without warning? We're never told, and I'm guessing that maybe this appears in the World War Z book. But since people might not have read that one, it makes the tales told here somewhat shallow-looking.

The end result is that the story is okay in execution, but the overall book comes off as unsatisfying, at least to me. The reasons why humans apparently don't know about Zombies gets increasingly frail the closer we get to recorded history, and several of the accounts make it seem that some people do know, they just don't want to face the truth- such as the siege of the French Legionnaires- why does no help arrive? Why is their story never investigated, even after they are sent to French Guiana? You would think someone would want to re-occupy the fort, if they had soldiers there in the first place? For failing to answer those questions, among the others, I wouldn't recommend this book unless you just like reading about and seeing Zombies attack humans- there is plenty of that. Explanations, not so much.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Huntress by Christine Warren, Marjorie M. Liu, Caitlin Kittredge and Jenna Maclaine

This is a collection of four stories, each one by an author of urban fantasy/paranormal romance. Each story involves a woman who hunts, whether vampires, demons or something else.

Devil's Bargain by Christine Warren introduces us to Lilith, a half-demon bounty hunter. In exchange for a favor from a devil named Samael, or "Sam", she's agreed to do three favors for him. She's already done two, and now her last favor is to track down a book that has been stolen from him. She's skeptical that this is just any book or any simple job, but as soon as she does this favor, she is free, and that's a big factor in her thinking.

Unbeknownst to her, the book is a very rare and mystical book named the Predicti Arcanum, or Arcane Prophecies, which is a guidebook to the end of the world. The man who now owns the book, Aaron Bullard, knows the worth of what he has. But as he discovers, if a major devil, like Samael, manages to get his hands on the book, he can actually speed up the Armageddon. And neither Aaron nor Lili wants that. But can they find the way to defuse the armageddon through the proper sacrifice? Or will it end up with the death of one of them?

The Robber Bride by Marjorie M. Liu concerns Maggie, a tinker who has survived the Apocalypse. When disease brought down everyone who lived in the city, most fled to the countryside. But when Maggie encounters a cold-blooded stranger on a motorcycle that works, and her friend Trace goes missing, she finds Trace's necklace in the hands of another cold, shark-toothed biker, and realizes she must find the source of these strange people to find her missing friend.

But even as she tracks down Trace along with the help of a crow that she almost begins to understand, she finds out things about herself- things that she must confront if she is to find her friend and rescue the other humans who the bikers have kidnapped. But can she survive the bikers themselves?

"Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go" introduces us to Jack, a Cockney mage who sings in a rock and roll band. When he meets Ava, a demon hunter who wants to take down a big-time Demon named Areshko, Jack is willing to be bought, although he's not one who wants to go on taking out demon lords. But when he makes the mistake of sleeping with Ava, he finds out that she knows and does sex magic and once he's done her, he has to do what she says.

Jack and Ava go to take on Areshko, but when the demon inhales Ava like smoke, Jack must work with a Necromancer to save not only Ava, but himself, from Areshko's ravenous hunger, which threatens to consume everything in not only the Underground city, but the world above. But how can he fight such a powerful evil without Ava's demon-killing powers?

Jenna Maclaine adds "Sin Slayer" to the mix. Cin Craven is a witch and a vampire, whose witch powers survived her being turned. She, her love, Michael, and her friends Devlin and Ginny are known as the Righteous, who hunt down Rogue vampires and destroy them. Now, they are summoned back to England by its Regent, her old enemy, Sebastian Montford, to come to England to deal with Jack the Ripper.

Jack wasn't a problem for the vampires when he was killing humans, but now he is killing vampires, because they are more challenging targets. And Jack is neither a human nor a vampire, but a demon, able to take over anyone nearby when the body he is using is killed. But when the Demon Ripper takes over the body of her love, Michael, can Cin find a way to imprison the demon without killing the man she loves? And who summoned and set the Ripper free on London, and to what end? Can Cin find the truth before the demon kills her?

This was an interesting book, and I enjoyed all four of the stories just about equally, but some of them really did strike chords in me. Caitlin Kittridge's story hero, Jack, reminded me an awful lot of John Constantine as he is portrayed in the comics. As a bonus, he was Scouse (like Jack), played in a rock back in his youth (like Jack), a mage (like Jack) and both a pisser and a prat (I'm only going to repeat myself here- LIKE JACK). It was like reading John Constantine with the serial numbers filed off. And I mean that- all Jack lacks is the trenchcoat and suit- he even has the hairstyle. Oh, and the charm, because Jack in this story is an annoying prat who I wanted to kick in several painful places. I don't know exactly why he annoyed me so much, only that he did. While the story is otherwise okay- well, except for another big point, that Ava, the Huntress, isn't the main character of the story, i saw Jack's character as not very good fanfic of John Constantine.

The other stories are all excellent, and I think only Cin Craven is a continuing character in a series. Actually, Jack apparently turns up in another book by Caitlin Kittredge, but with a different love interest. Maybe I will find him better in longer story. Maybe. I'd definitely be willing to read more about Lili and Maggie, but their stories are really truly stand-alones. They find the man they love, they have adventure, and Maggie is set to return home with her man, while Lili looks ripe to settle down with Aaron- any further stories would be mere paste-ons to an already harmonious whole.

Aside from my problems with Jack in the Caitlin Kittredge story, this is a good story collection, and the stories are well-told and mostly hang together. My other problem is that Ava is not the main character for her story, Jack is, and Ava comes off as downright lousy at her job, considering how easily she is defeated by Areshko- and that makes that story somewhat weak for me. Recommended, but not highly.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Immortals: The Haunting by Robin T. Popp

Mai Groves is a wood nymph who also holds down a job as an investigative reporter. But after a horrible incident with a demon, she's been suffering PTSD and seeing a psychologist. The PTSD is playing hell with her career, and her boss let her go because if she wasn't writing, he couldn't keep paying her. So when her former boss calls to tell her that her therapist has been killed, she's shocked, but she stopped seeing him a few weeks ago.

Soon afterwards, she experiences a vivid hallucination of being beaten and then being saved by a dark man whose face she cannot see. When she comes back to herself- everything is back to normal, and she shows no evidence of being beaten or mauled- which seriously makes her wonder if she is over her PTSD. All that's missing after her personal brown-out is a series of notes she took at a meeting with her informant- because she is working on another story.

Alone in her apartment that she used to share with her roommate Lexi (who is now married to Darius, the Immortal, Mai takes a shower and is freaked out by a message that appears on her steamy bathroom mirror, so she immediately moves to a new apartment, too freaked out to ever return to her old one.

But the new apartment has problems, too. The building's super stands entirely too close for her liking, and keeps making suggestive comments indicating he'd like to take her to bed, which freak Mai out, but not enough that she wants to move. She meets a pair of sisters living in an adjacent apartment, Sarah and Rachel, and quickly bonds with them over her former job and the freaky super.

But unbeknownst to them, the freaky super is actually some kind of magician, who inherited a genie that lives inside a mirror, and who can look into any mirror inside the apartment building. Forever on the make, he wants to have sex with every pretty girl in the building, but he's an indifferent mage who keeps messing up with his spells because of his poor wording when making his wishes.

When he tells the spirit to kidnap Mai, instead, the spirit grabs Sarah, who resembles Mai. Meanwhile, Mai has contacted a shifter with skills at dream healing and interpreting visions, John Blackhawk, to come and help her. But when he first meets her, she has hardly unpacked any of her clothes, and can only find the ones she goes clubbing in, so when he meets her, he thinks she's a stripper or a whore, and a present from his friend, Dave. Because Dave always sends him that kind of present on his birthday.

Once Mai gets over being offended, she and John return to her building, because since she's talked to him, the mirror in the building seemed to open up when she reached out to touch it. But when she did it again later, it was solid once more, and she thinks it was a dream- or hallucination. John protects her from Super by pretending to be her boyfriend, but he gets a bad feeling from the man also.

But when John gets Will, the handyman, to admit that his spirit kidnapped Sarah, it will be up to all of them to get her back. But when the spirit in the mirror takes Sarah's form, will they be able to get the real Sarah back and banish the spirit of the "genie" that took her in the first place? And can Jack, who has discovered that Mai is his destined mate, convince her of that, and that he didn't reject her when he thought another woman was his mate, and that he does sincerely want her?

But who and what sent Mai fleeing from her original apartment, and can John protect her from a man who wants her dead?

I liked this book. The characters and story were very enjoyable, and coming off the book of short stories, Immortal, the Reckoning, which ended with a story by Robin T. Popp, made this one easy to get into. And even though I really read them in the wrong order and knew the outcome of what happened with Sarah, it was still an engrossing and engaging read.

I liked the interplay of the characters of Mai and John, and Will came across as a very real kind of person. Lots of women have met someone like him, someone who tries to come across as helpful, but he creeps you out because you can just sense he has an ulterior motive for "helping". That motive being, he wants to get in your pants. So that made him authentically creepy in my book.

As for the other characters, well, Mai may be part wood nymph, but we never get any idea of her powers. She could be just another human for how much her powers come into the book. Would I recommend this book? Yes, I would. It was an interesting and entertaining mystery with characters that were interesting to read.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Immortals: The Reckoning by Jennifer Ashley, Joy Nash and Robin T. Popp

Rounding out the stories of the Immortals universe is this collection of three short stories from the Immortals universe, pairing up secondary or tertiary characters from the Immortals stories.

Wolf Hunt by Jennifer Ashley tells the story of Logan, a Packmaster wolf from a werewolf pack. He used to serve a Werewolf named Matt, but he didn't support all of Matt's ideas, and when Logan's mate decided she preferred Matt to Logan, Logan knew that she was a user who wanted to foment chaos in the tribe. Instead of challenging Matt and fighting him to the death, which was what his mate wanted, Logan left and walked away, leaving Matt's future in doubt and the tribe divided against itself.

But when his old pack attacks and hunts Nadia, a minor demon, she calls on Logan for help, and he discovers a plot to bring him back and kill him to help Matt to keep his stranglehold on the pack. But what will happen when Matt and Logan finally square off- can Matt actually defeat the much stronger Logan without resorting to some kind of trickery? And can Nadia prevent herself from aiding the man she has come to love?

Blood Debt by Joy Nash reunites Leanna, an elven muse, with Jackson Cabot, a former artist turned into a vampire by Legrand, an old, extremely powerful and cruel vampire. Leanna has been imprisoned in Hell and escaped thanks to her brother, Mannanan Mac Lir, and regained her youth due to spending time in Annwyn, the land of death. But Jackson, who was alternately drained and inspired by Leanna, blames her for himself being caught by Legrand and turned into a vampire, then tortured and tormented by his sire.

Now, he wants to kill Legrand, and he wants Leanna to be the one who does it. She has forsworn her Muse magic, and no longer wants to be the death of anyone- her time in Hell has shown her that. But when Legrand takes action against Jackson, who she still has feelings for and is attracted to, can resist coming to his aid and helping him take down the sadistic Legrand?

Beyond the Mist by Robin T. Popp has Jenna, a witch who believes she was responsible for the death of her parents. When Sekhmet gives Poseidon Jenna's name as someone to punish in exchange for the life of her grandson, she truly believes Jenna killed her parents. But Jenna's roommate Dave, who has long loved and been attracted to her, goes after her when she supposedly wins a free cruise on Poseidon Cruise Lines, thinking it sounds like a bad excuse to kidnap women for the sex slave trade. Life on the cruise seems fine at first, but there is a man named Conrad who shows an unhealthy interest in Jenna.

Dave tries to protect her, and when Poseidon realizes that she is innocent of her parents death, he gives her one chance to save her dead sister's soul and undo time so that she never lost her sister. But what about Dave, who loves her and whom she loves as well? If she gets to reverse time on her sister's death, will she ever remember loving him, or will their relationship evaporate like mist?

Again, I hadn't read the books that many of these stories spin off from, but I found them interesting and entertaining. I actually found myself getting more interested in the last two stories than the first, even though I had read another book by Jennifer Ashley right beforehand. All three of the stories were fine, but I just liked the second two better, even though I rather enjoyed the visuals of the first story best, especially Nadia's demon form, which is sort of like a dark angel- white skin, triangular face, completely black eyes and black, feathery wings.

The strange thing was that people reject her for how her demon form looks, but as described, I thought it sounded lovely. Strange, but lovely. If she'd had horns and scales, I could see why people would reject her, For her form as described- not so much. Wouldn't it be more of a challenge to write a romance for someone who wasn't pretty? Ugly girls need love too, you know.

All three stories were pleasing and satisfying, but nothing really truly spectacular. all the characters who find love here were secondary characters in the books that featured them, and it was actually a little annoying that we never find characters who are happy being alone or unmarried/unmated. Silly of me to expect in a romance novel, but still-it almost reminds me of how people who are happily married find the need to match up their unattached friends- apparently in their belief that no one can be happy alone. I get the whole "revisiting the stories of characters you enjoyed", but to me it smacks more of unashamed greed (How much more money can we get out of people who enjoyed this series?) or the "we must match everyone with their perfect/destined mate because no one could ever be happy alone!" I enjoy romances as much as the next person, but I am perfectly happy being alone in real life. So, another book I'd recommend, but nothing that set the fireworks off for me.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Immortals: The Gathering by Jennifer Ashley

Hunter is an Immortal Warrior, one of five that lived like brothers. All they have in common is that one of their parents is a God- and Hunter's is Kali, and his Immortal brothers call him The Crazy One. Recently, the world has felt strange, different and menacing. Hunter has felt uneasy about it, but he's been staying with a number of women, enjoying their bodies. But when he gets up to get a drink of water, he is suddenly pulled away from where he is by a summoning.

But something interrupts the summoning, and he's dumped onto a small island where Leda Stowe lives. Leda is a wildlife rehabilitator who lives in isolation on a tiny island because she's afraid of people judging her for an incident in her past. Right now, she has two animals in her care, a lion named Mukasa who was rescued from a Mexican druglord, and Taro, a bear rescued from a circus. Of the two, she's more concerned about Mukasa, and has been worried about an attack by the Drug Lord or his men.

So when she finds the half-naked Hunter in Mukasa's cage, she thinks he might be working for the Drug Lord, but he disarms her suspicions and those of her contact, Douglas, although Douglas is angry that Hunter keeps coming onto Leda. Leda is definitely attracted to Hunter, and he soon has the story about why she's hiding out on this heavily shielded island- long ago, Leda was a member of the Coven of Light, a group of White witches who practice life magic. But when her husband fell deathly ill, she did everything she could to save him- and it wasn't enough.

So she did the unthinkable- she summoned a Groth demon to empower her magic enough to save her husband's life. But when she'd saved him, he was not at all grateful, and rejected her for summoning the demon, even though it was to save his life. He left and divorced her, and the coven kicked her out for what she'd done. And her life magic was tainted with the demon's death magic. Hunter, in accepting what she did to save her husband as right, convinces her to make love with him, and as he does so, he removes the death magic from the life magic she normally possesses, as well as removing the compulsion on her soul to meet the demon and become his whore.

He also chases off the Drug Lord's men when they come to reclaim Mukasa, and then must drive of a demon attack that he attracted by using his life magic on the island, drawing attention to it. But their happiness is soon interrupted by the arrival of Samantha, a half-demon who works as part of the Supernatural Crimes Squad. Her mother has gone missing, and she fears that her demon father is to blame. Hunter distrusts Samantha, who is full of death magic from her demon father, but Leda casts a sleep spell on Hunter when they make love and leaves for the mainland with Samantha.

Hunter follows her, along with Mukasa, leaving Taro in the care of the Undines who make the island their home. Hunter wants to protect Leda from the real world, but he can't. Already, she's tried to do a scrying spell to find Samantha's mother and failed, the magic blowing up in her face. But part of that is due to what is causing problems in the world: an old and powerful demon wishes to destroy and remake the world, and one of Hunter's immortal brothers, Tain, is on its side. While it's hard to believe that a warrior with such strong life magic is on the side of a demon who wields death magic, Tain has been a captive of the demon for hundreds of years, and has been tortured so much that he's gone crazy and feels the pain the demon inflicts as love.

But the demon isn't happy with having just one of the immortals on its side. Several times, it appears as Leda to Hunter, wanting him to impregnate its body and give it a child. But every time, Hunter is able to tell the difference and reject its advances. He loves Leda, not just her outer form, and when the demon eventually shows up to kidnap him and torture him as it tortured Tain, his brother, it's up to Leda and her friends and allies, including the Vampire Septimus, to rescue him and keep him alive until the rest of the brothers show up- each with the woman they have come to love. But can the four other immortals find a way to rescue their brother Tain and bring him back into sanity, as well as destroying the demon before it can take over the world and remake it in the demon's image, using the magic of the brother immortals? And is there any hope for Hunter and Leda's love when he no longer remembers her? Will he reject her when she uses the same method to save him that she did her husband?

My biggest problem with this book is that it's near the end of a series, and the culmination of a whole lot of story and plotting, but at the same time, I didn't read the previous books. I saw this one in the store and picked it up, not realizing that others had come before it. But, that being said, this story was fairly stand alone- Aside from a mention of the witches calling the Immortals at the beginning of the book, and the Immortals becoming scattered all over the place when something interrupted the calling, the rest of the book does stand on its own. You become aware there are other books in the series when the other immortals and their loves show up, but you don't need to read them to thoroughly enjoy this book.

I really liked this book. Yes, Hunter starts out as basically a male whore, using his body to bring women happiness, but once he and Leda come together, it quickly becomes much more than that. She's more than just another body to him. He wants to protect her, and he comes to see her as more than just another warm body- perhaps because she does more to stand on her own than just lie back and let him protect her. She has sympathy for what he has suffered, and she doesn't demand he stay with her- all she asks is that he give her a child to remember him by when he finally leaves her.

Hunter has denied his pain for so long that he's almost forgotten that it exists, but loving Leda makes him remember it, and want to hide again. Leda helps him face the pain of losing his wife and child so long ago- and while it is very convenient that the demon who killed them is also the demon he is currently fighting for the body, mind and soul of his brother, Tain, it doesn't feel like a "How conveeeenient!" moment when it's revealed, just another crime to lay against Kekhsut in its quest to sway the Immortals to its side.

I liked the book, and I'd recommend it, but it wasn't a personal high point in romance novels for me. I didn't feel I had to immediately go out and buy the rest of the novels or complete the collection. It's a nice, good book, but no more than that. Recommended.

Friday, February 12, 2010

One Bite with a Stranger by Christine Warren

Regina McNeil has been sexually celibate ever since she discovered her boyfriend having sex with his secretary when she walked in with him one day at lunchtime, but her friends, the one she formed a "Fantasy Fix" team with to help them live out their fantasies in the real world, won't let her remain celibate forever. Though she's not ready to end her sexual fast just yet, they bully her into writing down sexual fantasies that they will help her fulfill.

Pressed, she writes down four sexual fantasies she knows they won't be able to find for her, but the fifth is actually something she does want to find- a man to tie her up and master her. They pick two fantasies and the ones they pick are for her to screw a vampire, and the sexually mastering her one. Although she tried to give them things they couldn't fulfill, they wouldn't let her get away with it that easy- and demanded she attend the vampire ball with them, where they set her up with a "vampire" who is also into S&M, bondage and domination.

But when she is at the club, she attracts the attention of a real vampire, Dmitri Vidâme, who sees her and cannot resist talking to her- or taking her back to her apartment, where he fulfills every single one of her desires while practically screwing her into the mattress. But when she agreed to become his, she has no idea that Dmitri takes her vow very seriously indeed- and he is looking for her to be more than just a one-time lay.

Her friends aren't satisfied with her satisfaction- in fact, one of her friends, Ava, appears to be quite pissed off with her when she will neither share the real details with her friends of what happened to her the night before nor agree to a second shot. She declares that the night with Dmitri "doesn't count" towards having her fantasy fulfilled and ruthlessly ropes her into another one. Her other friends protest, but give way before Ava's determination.

Ava sets up Regina on another fantasy, but also gets angry and confronts Dmitri, wanting to ensure he's not some kind of horrible serial killer out to kill Regina, and she's more than a little angry at Regina as well. But Regina doesn't know why, and she isn't quite sure she can defuse her friend's anger- or if she wants to.

Dmitri wasn't in that club for no reason- he was there trying to get a lead on who has been running around making packs of new vampires without permission and letting them run wild to attack humans and others. As part of the council that oversees all the Supernatural Creatures, Dmitri must find the one responsible and bring him or her to justice.

But even as he deals with that, and Regina deals with her friends, she is attacked by her old boyfriend, who has somehow been turned into a vampire and attacks her for revenge on her after she threw him over when she discovered he was cheating. But as her sexual antics with Dmitri continue and she falls ever more deeply in love with her, can they keep each other alive as someone seeks to eliminate them both?

After having read Christine Warren's other book, "Walk on the Wild Side", I wasn't sure exactly how well I was going to like this one, but in the end, I did. Yes, the hero, Dmitri, does stuff to her that does seem borderline abusive, with heavy BDSM going on, but the difference is, in this case, Regina wanted what he was doing to her. He pushed her boundaries, and she made a token protest, but at the same time, she wanted it- he was reading her mind to know what she really wanted, and she was extremely turned on by it- not so in the case of the earlier novel.

Who really comes off badly in this novel is Regina's friend, Ava, who is acting like such a bitch that it was hard to remember that she was a friend and trying to protect Regina- she's so nasty and unpleasant to Regina and Dmitri that I wanted to call her a bitch and throw her off a bridge somewhere- especially when she told Regina that her fantasy didn't count just because Regina wouldn't share the details of her experience and didn't do it with the man that Ava set her up with. She goes from "Pushy friend" to "Sour old bitch" so quickly that she crosses the line as a blur- the reader starts wondering what is wrong with her. She redeems herself somewhat towards the end, but you really begin to wonder how good a friend she really is/was. And how anyone else can put up with her.

This book has plenty of hot sex, and you'll enjoy it more if you don't mind a bit of BDSM in your fantasies, as this romance/book trends heavily in that direction. But although this book isn't the first in the Others series, it's the first chronologically, and the next book involves the mostly unlikeable Ava- after all Regina's other friends are already married to a variety of Otherworldly creatures- and all of those were written under the aegis of another publishing house and can't be found any more, or so I hear. In any case, this is a mostly enjoyable book and I do recommend it, but because of the strong BDSM elements, not highly- unless you like that sort of thing or it doesn't bother you.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Walk on the Wild Side by Christine Warren

Kitty Sugarman lived almost her entire life without realizing she was half Werelion, or as they like to call themselves, Leo. Until she was in a car accident with her mother and shifted to get out of the wreck without realizing it. For all her life, she'd thought her father was dead, and now it's worse- she knows he left without giving a damn about her. But her grandfather, Papaw, made her contact her father so that she could learn about the part of herself that she's suddenly discovered- and to learn how to control it.

Max is the baas of the Red Rock Leo Pride, the second in command of Martin Lowe, Kitty's father. Martin is sick and dying and he asks Max to look after Kitty while she's in town. But almost as soon as she arrives, she's attacked in the women's restroom and transforms without meaning to to save her life from a man attempting to mug her, and needs Max's help to transform back into a human- and after he helps her, he can't get the sight of her naked body out of his mind.

Max had already formed an idea of what Kitty would be like without meeting her- hard, proud, cold and demanding, but the true Kitty takes him by surprise, as she's warm, innocent and spontaneous. Instead of coming to welch off her wealthy father's money, she's here to meet him, yell at him, learn to control her powers, and leave- in that order. All that Kitty cares about is learning not to be a danger to the people she loves- she wants nothing to do with the father who abandoned her and her mother. Admittedly, her mother slept around with everyone, but he left Kitty as if she didn't matter, and that's how she judges him.

Max, on the other hand, was raised by Martin as he would have been by his father- if he had a real father. He wants to help and protect Kitty from Max's other family, well aware that they are not going to like her, and will give her a hard time. He wants to give her time with her father, but her father's other family doesn't want Martin to like her, spend time with her or give her any of his fortune, and now that Max has met her, he's become increasingly sure that Kitty is destined to be his mate- but the only way to know if she feels the same is if she starts ovulating after he makes love to her for the first time- and while he's busy falling in love with her, someone is seeking to take her life. But who? And why? And can Max keep her safe long enough for her and Martin to have time to bond before Martin dies?

Kitty finds Max attractive, but she doesn't like the way he tries to run her life, or the way he blunts her sense of self-reliance by always stepping in to try and protect her when she doesn't feel she needs protecting. But as irritated as she gets at him, her instinct to step in and try to help him seem to only get her more slagging from Martin's family, and after a while, she's just had enough. But can she stand up to the female Leos in Martin's family without the more experienced at changing women killing her? And when Max wants her to give up her old life to join him in Vegas as his mate, will she be able to do so with a whole heart?

This book made me irritated, because it reminded me of a lot of romances published in the late 70's and early 80's. Not to put too fine a point on it. Max is always right and Kitty is always wrong. About everything. And to put the perfect "Ugh!" topping on the book, he's so protective and over-protective, he risks taking away her ability to be a strong woman by overriding her when she chooses to try and protect herself in a way that he doesn't like.

This book crossed the line between a protective hero and an overprotective hero. And he's damned overbearing as well. His character put my back up to the point where I wanted to smack the hell out of him. Not that Kitty is perfect, either. She does some pretty stupid things, but it's more excusable because of her extreme ignorance of Leo society- she literally knows nothing about it when she arrives, and not that much more by the end of the book- except that it combines human and lion society. Max is pushy and overbearing, which is usually pegged as "Alpha" behavior, but is more Alpha wannabe. Real Alphas don't have to get all pushy- they dominate effortlessly. If you have to be pushy? Not an Alpha. And the references to Max continually wanting to spank Kitty's ass to keep her in line? a real turn-off for me. It's like the only way he could think of to keep her in line was physical abuse, and that raised a whole other set of red flags for me. Thinking of the man as a woman-beater is so not conducive to romance in my book. The whole thing just left a very bad taste in my mouth.

In the end, we find out who has been trying to kill Kitty, and it won't be much of a surprise to say... it's no surprise. I didn't find many characters to like in this book, as all of them were pretty much jackasses, portrayed as greedy, shiftless and evil. Only Martin redeemed himself, and he was dying. If Max was real and I was Kitty, I'd be running in the opposite direction from his controlling self. Not recommended at all.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hearts at Stake by Alyxandra Harvey

Solange Drake may attend a regular school with her classmates, but she's very special. She's destined to become Queen of the Vampires, and her pheremones are becoming so strong that she can't be out alone any more because of the danger of her being attacked by some vampire who wants her for a bride. The only one that doesn't treat her like the second coming of the vampire messiah besides her family is her best friend Lucky, who prefers to be called Lucy.

Solange's family has been vampires for a very long time, and are old enough that they can have children. While the children are young, they are human, but once they turn 16, they undergo a blood change and become vampires, unable to stand the sun. Everyone is sure that she is the prophesied leader of the vampires because she is the only female born to the Drake family- all she has are brothers, and the other female members of the family either started out human and were made, or were already vampires and married in.

The current leader of the Vampires, Lady Natasha, hates and fears Solange because of the prophecy. Because of it, she banished Solange's family from her court, but the distance hasn't made any difference in her feelings- and as the time ticks down to her 16th birthday, tons of flowers and other presents are being left on the perimeter of her family's lands in hopes that she will choose to marry one of the givers and make him her King- a vain hope, as Solange doesn't want to be Queen- but no one except her family actually believe that.

Then comes a night when Solange is attacked by numerous vampires. Her mother and brothers kill all of them for one, whom they disable to ask the reason behind the attack. He is not a vampire, but a human, Kieran Black, a warrior of a group called "Helios-Ra", who are vampire hunters. He attacked because he believes the Drake family broke their treaty with Helios-Ra and killed his father. The Drakes know they didn't, but Kieran refuses to believe them. They decide to keep him Prisoner for now, but the next day, he breaks free by using a powder that mimics the persuasion pheremones of Vampires on Lucy, who is usually immune to such things. But this one is adulterated with a powder known as Hypnos- the only upside being that now the Drake family has a sample and can try to duplicate it.

Meanwhile, Lucy, who normally hates Solange's brother Nicholas, finds her opinion changing, and his as well. But how can she be attracted to a boy she so totally despises? And when Solange is taken to Lady Natasha for a meeting by a member of the family, even her brothers can't prevent her from being taken Hostage by the Helios-Ra. When her father summons their leaders to a meeting at his house, they swear that someone put out a contract on the family. When Solange's father tells them the family was not to blame for what happened to Kieran's father, Lucy discovers that Kieran is the nephew of one of the leaders, a man named Hart. Hart believes Solange's father, and his sister, Hope, the other leader, agrees to remain behind as a hostage while Hart tries to reign in one of his own units gone Rogue.

Back with Solange, Kieran, having finally believed the Drakes about them not being responsible for the death of his father, rescues Solange from the Helios-Ra men and hides her through the sun of the day. Solange is only two days from her 16th birthday and starting to undergo the change. This means she will need both vampire and human blood to survive. But can Kieran get Solange back to the bosom of her family before she dies, and can Lucy and Nicolas find her and bring her home? When she's captured by Lady Natasha, all bets are off. Is she truly the vampire of prophecy?

I enjoyed this book. It packs enough backstory and story into it that you do understand what is going on, but readers also might feel that they have missed some books in the series, because the story starts completely in media res with parts in both Solange and Lucy's points of view. And both characters have known each other for so long that they know pretty much everything about each other and speak in almost a kind of shorthand that long-term best friends use. This can make readers feel like they missed a book or three along the way.

But no, this is the first book in the series, it just doesn't feel like one, which can be more than a little confusing, and each main character has a romance which is the direct opposite of each other- Solange with Kieran, who hates her and her family at the beginning, and Lucy and Nicolas, who she dislikes for picking on her at the beginning of the book. what I liked about Lucy and Nicolas is that Lucy generally doesn't go into the "I can't be with him- I despise him!" rant more than once, and is generally open to romance once she gets used to the idea., and Solange and Kieran only get together at the end, after running and hiding from danger with each other.

Now, what didn't work for me was the world-building and background. Information about the world of the vampires, the different kinds of vampires, Solange's family, an evil vampire dude who wants her because he wants power and so on are tossed into the mix a paragraph or two at a time. It's so disjointed that it adds to the feeling of not being a first book. It's like the author is supposed to be reminding us of stuff we already know rather than introducing the knowledge for the first time that doesn't quite lead to a "Huh? What?" moment, but pretty close- it's hard to put it all together into some kind of coherent whole for the reader.

In the end, my reaction to the book was mixed. It's only kind of okay, mixing a romance trope that is already very overdone (Vampire romance) with a scattershot approach to world-building that isn't for everyone. Alyxandra Harvey might have a wonderfully complete and realized world for her vampires to live in, but she didn't make me feel it in the pages of this book. Add in some very over-used tropes (Seven wildly over-protective vampire brothers, an over-protective family and the heroine who knows there are credible threats against her who decides she can duck out of that protection just because she wants to feel normal) and you have a book that can make you want to throw it at a wall in frustration- particularly if you've read other YA vampire romances before.. This one ended up in the "Meh" category for me.

Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore

Nimira is a dance-hall girl, from a country not unlike India. With her mother dead, her father banished from court because of his excessive gambling and frittering away of their family's money, Nimira fled her Uncle's farm to the land of Lorinar, where she came to be a trouser girl, a woman who sings the native songs of her country, Tiansher, which the Lorinians call "Tassim".

But Trouser girls were no longer the entertainment of Lords, but the masses, and now she sings in a music call for a show with a 2 penny admittance, along with other girls of her country drawn by the same dream. Lately, though, Minira has seen a young man dressed like a Lord who has been watching her especially through the performances. During the day, she pooh-poohs any idea of him whisking her away from the tawdry glamour of the music hall to set her up in luxury somewhere, while at night, she dreams of just that.

When he does approach her, instead, it is about a singing job, but even so, she is happy to leave the theatre to go see him. Packing up her stuff and wearing her best Lorinan dress, she unfortunately has a run-in with the owner of the theatre who doesn't wish to let her go,. He's drunk and belligerent and nearly tears the arm off her dress, but she manages to get away from him and go to the hotel where the Lord who wishes her singing talents is staying. There, she is nearly turned away by the over-zealous doorman, but her possible boss shows up before the doorman can call the policemen on her.

Hollin Parry is more than just a lord, he's also a magician. He's recently bought an automaton from an estate sale, one that plays the Piano- several tunes. He's not made by human work, but by fairy work, infinitely finer and more magical. He wants Nimira to sing with the automaton because she sings with such passion, and because she strikes him as a no-nonsense sort of girl. He's tried to use other singers, but they claimed the automaton is haunted- groaning, wailing and chattering when it plays, and they left in fear of it. Nimira knows she's not one to be frightened of a machine, so she tells him that it won't frighten her.

Hollim says he knew she was the right woman for the job and hires her on the spot, soon taking her to his country estate, Vestenveld. It was there Hollin lived with his wife, Annalie, until she died of a fever. He wanted to travel with her, all around the world to see the wonders of the world, but now that she is dead, he has no reason to go. He revives the idea of going with Nimira, but she has no idea if she should be flattered at the attention or slightly panicked at the idea of being a man's courtesan/mistress.

They arrive at the estate at night, and at the entrance to the house, there are two magnificent golden lions. Namira finds them fierce and lovely, until she is told that Hollin's father, also a magician, turned real lions into the golden statues she is admiring now. Nimira is quite taken aback and disgusted that these things were once alive, and thinks that Hollin's father must have been quite a cruel man to do something like that.

In the morning, she is taken to see the automaton, a life-sized and even human-looking man in velvet clothes beautifully embroidered that plays the piano while seeming to look from the audience to the keys he is playing. Once again, Namira is taken aback at how lifelike he seems, even though he is wound up with a key in his back, and you can see his mechanisms through the front of his jacket. The automaton plays a few songs that Namira knows and Hollin gives her music and words to the others so that she can practice. But when she is finally alone, she discovers that the tales about the automaton weren't wrong -it does moan and chatter.

Slowly, she comes to realize that something about it is very strange, and she asks it questions that it can answer in its own way. It proposes a more complete method by playing an alphabet song, but Nimira, who can read and write, needs paper and a writing implement to translate. When she goes to look for some, she stumbles into the study of Hollin's father- a terrible place with stuffed fairies under glass- fairies which she was sure were once alive. Later, Hollin confirms this, and that his father was a cruel man. Not only does he have stuffed fairies, but a stuffed and mounted unicorn as well.

Nimira warms to him a bit, as he seems a much nicer man than his father, who is thankfully now dead. One of his father's friends, a magician who is head of the council, will be visiting, named Smollings. Smollings is a disagreeable man, but he was a friend of Hollin's father, who asked Smollings to look after his son when he was gone..

Back with the Automaton, Nimira asks him questions, and writes out his answers from the keyboard. The automaton tells her not to trust Hollin, but begs her for help. He asks her to contact someone named Karstor, who, as it turns out, is another sorceror. The Automaton, who gives his name as Erris, was told by Garvin, the former Minister of Magic, who tragically died and was replaced by Smollings, to contact Karstor if anything happened to him. She asks Erris what he is, and he tells her he is a man.

Smollings comes to visit, and is casually dismissive of Nimira and her talent. He discusses with Hollin the possibility that Erris, the automaton, might be a missing Faerie Prince, disappeared during the last war and presumed to be dead. However, there was also a story going around that one of his family's enemies had him turned into an automaton. He was searched for after the war but never found, and the rest of his family was assassinated. Now, a distant cousin rules the throne, and his people might be at war with the humans again at any moment.

That night, Nimira hears woman scream, and thinking it is the maid who has befriended her, goes out, only to be confronted by a different woman entirely. She's been hand-tied, but her legs are free, and she begs Nimira to untie her. Before she can, Smollings appears, tells Nimira that the woman is a mentally ill witch, and drags her off again, telling Nimira to mind her own business. Soon, Hollin appears, and confirms the story, but looks twitchy and nervous as he does so, so Nimira doesn't believe him. The next day, her servant friend tells her that the woman is really Annalie, former mistress of the house- not really dead, but changed and imprisoned on the upper floors of the house.

Nimira goes in search of her, but is found out by the housekeeper, who throws her out of the upper part of the house. Nimira convinces the woman she was just bored and exploring, so she tells Nimira not to go up there again, under pain of an even worse punishment. But Nimira doesn't listen, and finds Annalie anyway, who tells her that when Hollin resorted to death magic to cure her of her fever, he succeeded, with a strange drawback- now she can hear the spirits of the dead. Smollings uses her to contact the dark spirits of the dead- which hurts her.

Nimira, having fallen in love with Erris, needs Annalie's help to contact the one person she feels can help her, The Queen of the Longest Night, also known as the Queen of the Dead. Nimira is prepared to do anything to save Erris, but the Queen is moved by her love for him, and tries to do what she can. But as Smollings conspires to have Erris destroyed along with the automaton, can Nimira save Erris and save Lorindar from Smollings, who would destroy the faeries to ensure the primacy of humans? Or will she choose to travel abroad with Hollin and leave Lorindar behind? Can she ever convince Hollin to grow a backbone to stand up to Smollings, whom he both hates and fears, but who has a hold over him because of what he did to save his wife?

I loved this book. The words drew me right in from the start, so much so that it only took me an hour and a half to read. I know other readers will probably have to read for longer than that. but it's not a very thick book, and it is extremely enjoyable.

Readers will definitely be able to fill in the blanks, that Lorindar is England/America (Because Hollin talks about his ancestors coming there from across the sea) and Nimira is from Tiansher or India (her native dress certainly sounds like a Sari). Some readers might be upset at not simply calling the countries "England" and "India", but the chosen fantasy names make it easier to accept the magical world we find ourselves in when inside the book.

I loved the romance between Erris and Nimira- this may be Jaclyn Dolamore's first book, but she definitely hits the right notes to make us believe in the romance and why Nimira would fall for the transformed/imprisoned Erris. The readers, too, will sympathize with him, and feel that Hollin is too much a coward to deserve Nimira- willing to leave his wife behind to escape the situation in Lorinar and never telling Nimira that he is still married. He quickly loses any sympathy one might have had, and only gets our pity, even after he does finally grow a backbone and stand up for his wife and what is right against the man who has such a hold over him.

My only complaint here is that the novel cuts off very abruptly at the end. There is definitely indications of a sequel, but the ending was abrupt and could have been led into a little better- it just abruptly stops, and it could have been handled better, but I will definitely be interested in reading the next book when it comes out. Highly recommended.